Obama likely to make early mark on economy

And now, let the lobbying begin.

Although the inauguration is nearly three months away, President-elect Barack Obama and his team already are hard at work on plans to address the rapidly deteriorating economy and continue repairing the battered financial sector.

Financial services, housing, energy and the auto industry are among the biggest sectors of the economy whose executives will be hoping — and lobbying — to benefit early in the new administration.

Among the most pressing problems is the rapid contraction of the auto industry, as sales have collapsed amid the credit crunch, deepening economic slowdown and sharp pullback in consumer spending. Obama is expected to meet in the next few weeks with the CEOs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler to try to shore up the industry’s finances and head off the potential loss of millions of industry-related jobs.

Although financial markets have stabilized somewhat, and the credit freeze has begun to thaw, the repair of the financial services industry will be another pressing concern for the Obama administration. Given the sweeping powers Congress granted the Treasury under the $700 billion financial industry bailout bill last month, the beneficiaries could be broad-ranging.

Details of the plan are still taking shape and "there is little clarity" about major components of the program, Daniel Tenengauzer, head of global currencies strategy at Merrill Lynch, said in a note to clients Wednesday.

Another area likely to get attention early in the Obama administration is the energy sector. Obama has proposed spending $150 billion over 10 years to develop alternative energy sources including wind, solar and ethanol.

"It may not all be corn-based ethanol," said Christine Tezak, an analyst with the Stanford Group. "But a big component of Obama's goal is to bolster our domestic security by fostering fuels. And that includes renewables like ethanols, whether from corn or whether from cellulose."

Obama might not be as friendly to the nuclear industry. Although the Bush administration worked hard to jump-start a “renaissance” in construction of nuclear power plants, a plan enthusiastically supported by Sen. John McCain in his losing campaign, the Obama campaign has been lukewarm on nuclear, citing the problems of waste disposal and proliferation.

“He's tepid on nuclear,” said Branko Terzic, a former member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and now a consultant with Deloitte. “He said he's waiting for the scientific evidence on waste disposal and some other issues. So I don't think nuclear will be a high priority in the Obama administration.”

Big Oil producers and refiners may face the loss of tax incentives that were a cornerstone of the Bush administration’s energy policy. This year's spike in energy prices prompted Obama to propose forcing oil companies to set aside a “reasonable share of their record-breaking windfall profits” to help consumers pay for gasoline. But it remains to be seen whether Congress would go along with the idea.

The battered housing industry is also seeking relief from the new administration, which faces decisions on a number of issues that have effectively been on hold in the final weeks of the campaign. Among them is the long-term future of mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The government takeover of the two companies helped stop their financial hemorrhaging, but the long-running debate over whether to rebuild them — or split them up —now begins again in earnest.

So will the debate over how much further the government should go in providing relief for millions of homeowners facing foreclosure. A housing relief bill enacted last summer stopped short of direct government intervention. But in recent weeks, Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairwoman Sheila Bair has been pressing a plan to use money from the financial rescue package to provide government guarantees for failing mortgages.

Democrats in Congress have also pushed unsuccessfully to change federal bankruptcy law to allow judges to modify home loans; that idea could find new support in Obama’s housing relief efforts.

As the impact of $100 billion in special tax rebates this year has faded, Congress is already considering another government spending package to get the economy going again. This time around, governors and other state and local officials are pressing for federal support for hundreds of projects to rebuild roads, water and sewer systems that are ready to go but lack funding. Contractors, raw materials suppliers and construction equipment makers would be immediate beneficiaries of that spending.

Given the pressing economic problems, Obama’s pledge to reform the health care system may get pushed further down on the list of priorities. But given the rising burden of health care on private industry and the government, it remains a major issue. Drugmakers could see price controls, although expanded insurance coverage could increase their customer base. Health care providers could be squeezed by cost-control efforts.

Political analysts have credited Obama with using technology to power his campaign. The president-elect has also enjoyed strong support from the high tech sector, including a high-profile endorsement from Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Now some in Silicon Valley expect Obama to return the favor.

“This is one of the youngest presidents the United States has ever had,” said venture capitalist Steve Westly. “He's forward looking. He understands the power of technology. He's someone who has grown up in a different era than past presidents. I think that’s going to be very good news for Silicon Valley.”

For all the debates, position papers and speeches, it remains to be seen how much of Obama’s agenda will become law. The first-term senator will have to draw on different skills as he assembles a Cabinet, navigates a new role as leader of the executive branch of government and confronts some of the biggest problems the country has faced in generations.

But Obama’s success in winning one of the country's longest and toughest political campaigns is a promising sign that he has those skills, according to former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft and GE's NBC Universal.)

“If you look at management skills with execution as one of the real issues, this guy demonstrated, without question, the best execution I've ever seen in a presidential campaign and maybe management execution,” said Welch. “He came from a basement start-up to build an organization that was flawless. This is a manager. This is a real manager.”